Legacy Run rides for VCF

The 2024 American Legion Legacy Run will leave from Independence, Mo., on Aug. 18 and arrive in New Orleans on Aug. 22. Register here.

Along the way, the ride will travel more than 1,100 miles, also moving through Arkansas and Mississippi. Prior to and along the way, its participants will be raising money for the American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation (VCF). The foundation feeds and houses children of military personnel and veterans facing urgent, unexpected hardships through Temporary Financial Assistance grants. These grants prevent eviction, keep the power on and fulfill basic needs to hold a family together through difficult times.

The VCF also covers rigorous training and accreditation costs for American Legion claims experts who provide free representation for veterans and families applying for disability benefits, survivor assistance, GI Bill opportunities and more.

National American Legion Riders Chairman and Legacy Run Chief Road Captain Mark Clark spoke with American Legion Social Media Manager Steven B. Brooks about this year’s route, while raising funds for the VCF is such an important mission, and how grateful he is for the Riders’ commitment to the ride.

Steven Brooks: You’re not just the Legion Riders national chairman. You’re also very active at the chapter level as well, and your chapter itself is very active. As a whole, the Tirey J. Ford Post 21 Legion Family does a lot in its community. What’s it going to be like to showcase that to Legion Riders from all over the nation when your post hosts the Legacy Run’s kickoff?

Mark Clark: It’s going to be awesome. Our family at American Legion Post 21 is very excited about having this opportunity because they’re in it to win it. Our family at the post works together closely on everything, whether it be a local event or something on the national scale like we’re getting ready to have on the Legacy Run. So we’re very excited about it, and I can’t wait for the Riders across the country to experience the hospitality of Tirey J. Ford Post 21. We’re looking forward to bringing them all in there.

Question: Talk about some of the daily highlights Riders can expect on this year’s route.

Clark: When we leave out of Post 21, we’re going to go to the Missouri Veterans Home. It’s going to be our first stop on Day 1, but on the way we’re going to pick up the AVTT Traveling Vietnam Wall and escort that to the veterans home, which will be an awesome day for them and an awesome event for us. From there, we’re going to head south to Branson, where we’re going to go to the Table Rock Lake Post (637). We’re going to let folks enjoy the hospitality of that very exciting town that we like to showcase in Missouri.

On Day 2, we’ll head south into Arkansas and stop at the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, which is a really interesting place. It was something near and dear to Dave Schoonover (a longtime Kansas Legionnaire who died after being involved in a motorcycle accident on his way to the 2022 Legacy Run). He was a board member there for 22 years; he and his wife Millie helped build that place, and we’re going to go in there and support that facility along the way. After we leave there, we’ll ride the history Highway 23, known as the Pig Trail, down to Russellville, where we’ll overnight. In Russellville, they’re going to have the entire entertainment district opened up just for us. They’re going to have food and live music. It’s going to be an exciting overnight stop.

The next morning, the ride really gets pretty. When we leave out of there, we’ll be on the historic Scenic 7 Byway down into Hot Springs, which is a beautiful ride. A lot of folks don’t know that Hot Springs is a national park. All of those historic hotels, we’re going to ride right by them through that historic district on our way to Malvern, Ark., where we’re going to have lunch at the Boys & Girls Club. At the end of that day, we’re going to stop at Duck Commander, and the Robertson family from “Duck Dynasty” is going to be there to greet us. And everybody’s going to get a duck call, so that’s going to be a fun day.

When we leave out of West Monroe the following morning, we’re going to ride to Vicksburg, and folks are going to have the opportunity to explore the historic city of Vicksburg, Miss.  We wanted to go en masse into the battlefield, but that’s just impossible. So we’re going to give them a landing spot and let them go enjoy that city of Vicksburg. From there we’ll rally up head on down to Camp Shelby (Joint Forces Training Center), where we’ll overnight in the Hattiesburg/Camp Shelby area.

The last day of the ride is going to be a really pretty ride as well. It’s going to be our shortest. We’re going to ride into the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Cemetery, where we’re going to pay tribute to the fallen heroes of our nation. From there, we’ll ride into the entrance to The Causeway bridge, where we’ll stage at the tollway area and then take us across the 23-mile bridge across the heart of Lake Pontchartrain into Jefferson Parish. It will be a beautiful way to finish this ride. I can’t wait, honestly, to get us on the road and get this thing started, because along the way we’ve got some other surprises for them that they’ll be excited to be a part of.

Question: Can you provide any hints about those surprises?

Clark: They’re just going to have to wait. I’ll tell you this: This is going to be a unique ride because of where we’re riding. We’re riding into some very rural country where there’s not a lot of American Legion posts or facilities big enough to host us. So we’re having to use some unconventional locations to stop and start. And we’re going to have some folks who are going to surprise us along the way.

Question: You talked about the stop at the wildlife refuge where Dave and his wife were so instrumental. Why make that stop? Is this a way to honor a Legionnaire and Legion Rider who was obviously so passionate about this ride?

Clark: It is. That’s one piece of it. But The American Legion has been the centerpiece of America for 105 years, and on this ride we should find worthy causes for us to support that are outside of that convenient umbrella that we are used to operating in. Because the way that we increase awareness of The American Legion is to be involved heavily in areas that otherwise have no contact with us. So this is a chance for us to support a nonprofit that’s doing incredible work to save and rescue these cats and bears and wildlife that have been abandoned by closed zoos and other things happening around the country. I think it’s something that would make Dave very proud. It sends the message that The American Legion cares about what happening in our communities beyond the walls of our posts.

Question: Is fundraising for the Veterans & Children Foundation on the Legacy Run a natural continuation from raising money for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund in that it does still benefit military children and veterans’ children, but also expands its scope of who it helps?

Clark: Oh absolutely. I believe that us transitioning to the VCF is the perfect transition at the perfect time. We have a lot of pride in what we did in raising money for the Legacy Scholarship Fund, and we achieved the goal that we set 17 years ago. There was going to come a time when were going to have to transition to something that could help us broaden our scope to help more people. And that’s what we’re doing. The Veterans & Children Foundation is commonly referred to as the foundation of hope because it provides that hope to military members and their families when they’re at their lowest point needing financial assistance, The American Legion is there. And when those veterans leave service, and they need to be connected to the veteran service officers, they’re going to help them connect to the benefits they’ve earned. That benefits not just the veteran, but it benefits their family, the community they live in, the support system around them. The Veterans & Children Foundation is one of our more holistic foundations The American Legion has. And I’m excited that the Riders are going to have a chance to contribute to that. And I think the more they learn about this foundation, the more excited they’re going to be to ride for it.

Question: What can you say to those posts, those districts and those departments that have already staged or have planned state and local Legacy Runs and getting a head start on this fundraising?

Clark: I just want to say thank you. I want to say thank you to the American Legion Family members that are out there raising money right now for this cause. To the Riders out there who have organized local, state and cross-state rides, I just want to tell you thank you. We know right now that there is an emotional attachment to our past mission, and there are some concerns or questions about the new mission. But I will tell you that anybody who doubted the Riders’ conviction doesn’t see what I see. They don’t see the effort that’s being given to raise money for the Veterans & Children Foundation. They don’t see the passion that our Riders are beginning to adopt to that. So thank you to the folks who have enough faith in us to keep the mission moving. To accept the challenge that we’ve been given as the American Legion Riders to carry forward a new mission. To leave a legacy of service to others. That’s what this new mission is going to give us. It will give us a chance to broaden our scope. To demonstrate to the American Legion Family that we’re so much more than just one cause. That the American Legion Riders are all in to everything that The American Legion is trying to do.

Question: You have American Legion Riders who use vacation time and money to travel to and participate in this ride every year. What do you want to say about them?

Clark: We’ve got folks who sacrifice their time, energy and treasure to come and support this national Legacy Run. Many of our folks who ride this ride still work, so they take their vacation days and spend their vacation money to come and ride the Legacy Run. So that’s why I always try to build something into the ride on every day that makes this worth their investment. We want to build memories on this ride. We want them to leave the ride thinking, “That was such a great experience I can’t wait for next year’s ride.”